▲ A list of victims' names at the Jeju April 3 Peace Park. Photo courtesy Jeju April 3 Peace Park
On Tuesday, March 25, Park Geun-hye approved proposals to make April 3 a national memorial day in memory of the victims and bereaved of Jeju 4.3. The tragedy, also known as the April 3 or Jeju Massacre, claimed up to 30 thousand lives between 1947 and 1954.
Campaigners have called for the designation since the promulgation of the April 3 Special Law in 2000 and Kim Ig-su, Director of April 3rd Peace Foundation, believes alongside the President’s expected visit to the memorial service, it signals a positive change in the official approach to the national tragedy.
“At this significant historic turning point, as director I express my happiness. This was a required resolution measure ... to restore truth and honor [and the president’s visit] is a symbol of 4.3 resolution,” Kim said.
“Out from the shade and into the sun, this is a moment of rebirth for 4.3, 66 years after its outbreak,” Kim continued. “I think that now ... a resolution is approaching [and it] can contribute to ridding the nation’s prejudicial vision of Jeju Island.”
Kim was hopeful the designation would lead to increased interest in 4.3, in addition to the Foundation’s own work. He also anticipated it giving impetus to remaining research and welfare support for victims and the bereaved “while the 4.3 generation is still alive.” He cautioned, however, that remaining work must not be rushed, requiring “wisdom and a step-by-step approach.”
More than six decades have passed since the tragic events occurred, most of the dead victims of a “Red Hunt” by punitive forces between 1947-54, including many right-wing militias sent from the Korean mainland. Let alone reparations and reconciliation, victims were silenced for most of the post-Civil War period, cowed by repressive regimes and ideological division.
The memory of those who died remained, however, and 4.3 reconciliation was central to the democracy movements against both Park Chung-hee (1961-1979) and Chun Doo-hwan (1980-1987), culminating in the 1987 June Democracy Movement. It is as such a beacon that Kim sees 4.3’s future role, recognizing its contribution to “human rights and democratic development across the nation.”
A national truth committee was finally established under former-President Kim Daejung through the “Jeju Special Law” (2000). Its report was published in 2003 and in the same year Roh Moo-hyun became the first head of state to offer an official apology and attend the memorial service on Jeju.
▲ Director Kim Ig-su believes this is a "historic turning point" for the movement for 4.3 reconciliation. Photo by Darren Southcott
At that time, Roh recognized 4.3’s role as a vehicle for “peace and human rights” across the world.
In practical terms, the 4.3 Memorial Service, held every April 3 at the Jeju April 3rd Peace Park, will be now organized and funded by central government. There will also be extra funds for reconciliation efforts guided by the Jeju Special Law.
“Primarily, we have the third stage of the Jeju 4.3 Peace Park development left to finish ... The third stage will include a peace education center, a center for overcoming hardships, a sky pond, a peace bell ... 12 billion won of projects,” said Kim.
With education such an important role of the Foundation, it is a concern for Kim that of the 4.3-related sites across Jeju, only 16 of 597 are currently being maintained. Before more damage is done there is a need for maintenance and repair to both establish 4.3 truth and to provide education opportunities for visitors.
413 school groups and 80,733 students visited the Peace Park last year among more than 200 thousand visitors in total, making it the nation’s foremost “dark tourism attraction.” Education is one of the Foundation’s “key functions” and Kim is pushing authorities to ensure more 4.3 topics are included in school textbooks.
In addition to these initiatives, Kim remains focused on his most pressing work: establishing 4.3 truth and serving the victims. He has set “truth and reconciliation as the target for the year ahead” and expresses concern that many urgent projects are “piling up.”
The Foundation has a team of one manager and eight researchers who are still identifying victims and the bereaved, yet funding is a constraint. The story is the same for welfare and compensation, which takes on more urgency by the year and up to now has been insufficient. Kim expects more support from Seoul.
“[W]e need to request an increase in the support grants for victims and the bereaved who are aging now,” said Kim. “There is an urgent need for increased support through government aid.”
Survivors receive 80 thousand won per month and first-generation bereaved receive 30 thousand won. Financial limitations mean that many of those in need of further support are living in extreme poverty with high medical bills related to injuries and illnesses arising from the conflict.
Despite these challenges, this year is of great significance for 4.3 victims and bereaved families. For Kim, the combination of the national memorial day designation and presidential visit is “an historic moment.”
“As progressive and conservative ideological confrontation disappears, I believe this is a turning toward a future of reconciliation and coexistence ... the truth of 4.3 can ripple throughout the world to ensure such a tragedy doesn’t occur again.”
**Figures released on Friday, March 28 show the total number of confirmed 4.3 victims through the research of the Jeju April 3rd Peace Foundation is 14,231, including 10,245 killed, 3578 missing, 207 disabled and 204 imprisoned. There are a total of 59,225 bereaved family members.
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